retail news in context, analysis with attitude


I’m sort of feeling bad about this. Again. But I’m going to do it anyway.

Again.

(Guess I’m not feeling that bad…)

You may remember that about a year ago, I did a piece about my local Ahold Delhaize-owned Stop & Shop, where I found a cart corral that was so dirty that I didn’t even want to take one. (There weren’t a ton of carts there, but that was because many of them were scattered in the parking lot, not because the store was at all crowded.) And inside, the store was selling - from a prominent position - Amazon gift cards.

I wrote at the time:

“All I could think was that if retailers want to win in an increasingly cutthroat competitive environment, they have to bring their A-game. Every hour of every day. That means, at the very least, being neat and clean and in-stock and with helpful, friendly employees who are getting it done. As opposed to bringing a D-game that does little to persuade the customer that this is where I should be bringing my business.”

I wrote it. I meant it.

But then, Stop & Shop went and did it again.

On Wednesday, November 7, I went to pick up some Land O’Lakes light cream for Mrs. Content Guy. This is a specific brand choice - she likes how it froths up when I make her coffee in the morning, and she likes the story behind the brand.

(I did a piece about six weeks ago about a Land O’Lakes advertising campaign featuring “a celebratory anthem about how women are contributing to an age-old industry,” making the point the women portrayed in it “are the actual farmers who are members of the Land O’Lakes cooperative.” This was a piece that Mrs. Content Guy actually read, and it affected her consumer preferences.)

When I went to the dairy department of the store, I found four containers of light cream carrying a “use by” date of October 18, 2018. (See below.)

It was, to be clear, November 7, 2018.

But it gets worse.

On October 30, I’d gone to pick up light cream from the same store. When I was there, I found - believe it or not - four containers of light cream carrying a “use by” date of October 18, 2018.

Yup.

On that day, I picked up those four containers and brought them up to the front customer service desk and pointed out that they were out of date by almost two weeks. They seemed a bit mystified by the fact that I’d gone to all that trouble, but I left those containers on the counter and went about my business.

Now, more than a week later, those four containers - or at least, four containers carrying the same date - were back in the dairy department.

So, I did it again. The nice woman behind the counter listened to me and responded, “Oh. That’s not good.” When I explained that I may have found the same containers there more than a week earlier, she shook her head. “We have a new person working in that department,” she said.

“But that doesn’t explain how the containers seem to have made their way back to the department from this counter,” I said.

She didn’t really have an explanation. Or a response. But she did promise that it would not happen again.

I have two points here.

One is that this really isn’t about Stop & Shop. I’m sure this happens in a lot of places. It just so happens that I occasionally go into this store … which I’m sure, at this point, they wish I wouldn’t.

But again, here is the question that I would ask every retailer:

Are you absolutely sure that your stores are not guilty of the same sins?

But the bigger issue is the same one that I pointed to a year ago.

If retailers want to win in an increasingly cutthroat competitive environment, they have to bring their A-game. Every hour of every day. That means, at the very least, being neat and clean and in-stock and with helpful, friendly employees who are getting it done. And with products that haven’t exceeded their expiration dates, and that certainly have not been returned to the case after a customer has pointed out a problem.

What they can’t do is bring their D-game, which does little to persuade the customer that this is where I should be bringing my business.

The product here may be light cream, but it strikes me as a heavy, Eye-Opening object lesson about how not to compete.








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